Feature: SAMANTHA CORMIER: Multifaceted Thespian Showcases One-Woman Show at Invisible Theatre

THE CROSSWORD PLAY runs on a limited run through Saturday, June 25

By: Jun. 22, 2022

Feature: SAMANTHA CORMIER: Multifaceted Thespian Showcases One-Woman Show at Invisible Theatre

Samantha Cormier arrives in her vintage Toyota pickup that she's owned and trusted for many years. She flashes her trademark, impish smile, presumably at the irony of my recently acquired SUV stalling midday without warning. She picks me up on short notice for our scheduled lunch meeting - and though I'm not surprised, I'm pleased that she of blithe spirit appears unruffled by the change of direction.

The choice of venue is a pleasant artifice; it's the company that matters, we're told. I'm honored to meet with a winsome local figure who takes the time out of her busy work schedule for an interview.

In fact, it wouldn't be a stretch to call Samantha the hardest-working actor in Tucson. She is known to make a swift dash from one play to the next, barely catching her own personal intermission. There aren't many companies in the city she hasn't enriched with her stage presence.

Even so, what sets her apart from fellow actors is the catalog of engagements she drums up away from the spotlight. Sam (as locals fondly call her) is a gifted, do-it-all thespian: a scenic designer who thinks like a director, a choreographer who innovates posthaste, and a handywoman with a soft spot for power tools.

That's not all. A buoyant charm that conspires with a quicksilver pace makes Samantha Cormier the quintessential youth leader of many a theater camp, a role she relishes during the off-season. I'm not sure there's someone more absorbed in various aspects of the theater year-round.

Feature: SAMANTHA CORMIER: Multifaceted Thespian Showcases One-Woman Show at Invisible Theatre

A graduate of Directing and Scenic Design from the University of Arizona, Samantha did not always prefer to be on stage.

"I always wanted to be an actor, but I had anxiety," she confides. "I didn't want to do it because I was just such an anxious and nervous kid. Then I saw more and more people doing it and I thought - I know that feeling, that connection, and I felt that I could portray that moment with honesty. I understood the human condition and [I had] empathy. So one day I just had the nerve; I went and auditioned and got the lead in a play. I just had to find ways to control my anxiety."

Having vanquished her initial fear, Sam became actively involved in the theater program at Sahuaro High School. And though she found herself drawn to the technical aspects of college theater, she immersed herself post-graduation in all things theatrical, becoming schooled in the sundry ways in which local theaters operate.

Feature: SAMANTHA CORMIER: Multifaceted Thespian Showcases One-Woman Show at Invisible Theatre

Seven years flew by and Sam felt the inevitable call to take her craft to another level. She left Tucson to pursue a master's degree in acting at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). Graduate school is where she learned to sharpen her tools and discover the nuances of the profession.

Her exhaustive training would explain Sam's ability to sustain the energy for consistent work, both on and off the stage. In the last six months, a dizzying gauntlet of roles hasn't diminished her efficiency: Vanda in VENUS IN FUR, Nancy in SECRETS OF A SOCCER MOM, Sister Amnesia in NUNSENSE, and now the Puzzlemaker in the CROSSWORD PLAY (or ESMERANDA'S GIFT), directed by the talented Gretchen Wirges in a limited run at The Invisible Theatre, where Sam also directed last season's production of Nia Vardalos' TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS (based on Cheryl Strayed's best-selling book).

BWW: Tell me about THE CROSSWORD PLAY. I believe it's a new piece from The New Play Exchange.

SC: So you're walking into a seminar on how to make a crossword puzzle. And if you're into crossword puzzles you'll like it because you'll get the innuendos and the double meanings. I'm this confident crossword puzzle maker, I've been doing it for a long time. But then as the play goes on, as the seminar goes on, a little bit of my personal life starts to come into play. I start talking about an ex-boyfriend who has the intention to get back together. I don't want to give away too much, but this ex-boyfriend is with another woman. This woman ends up hiring her to do a puzzle for her new boyfriend, [happens to be] the ex-boyfriend.

BWW: I like it already.

SC: Yeah. And so she's trying to grapple with that, wanting to get her boyfriend back and wanting to be a good person delivering this puzzle for her ex-boyfriend. So she knows a lot of inside things about him. Phone calls keep on coming in throughout the play that interrupt the puzzle, ending up with her wanting to know where her boyfriend is.

There's a line in the play that says, "You can make a crossword puzzle and solve your life." And that's kind of what she's doing: She's making this crossword puzzle to solve these roadblocks she's had in her life. She has an epiphany where she realizes her self-worth.

BWW: So you're a character who breaks the fourth wall the entire time.

SC: Yes, I talk to the audience. Before you sit down the audience can ask the puzzle maker questions, some of them the playwright thinks what people are going to ask. My answers will change slightly depending on how the questions are asked. Donna Hoke, the playwright herself, is a professional crossword puzzle maker.

BWW: So this is your official first one-woman show. How do you go about learning such a large volume of text?

SC: Chunks...lots of imagery. I'm dyslexic, so I have to memorize text in images, tricks that I kind of tell myself. In this play, I have to memorize words and where they go in the crossword puzzle.

BWW; I love the fact that dyslexia hasn't kept you from pursuing these text-heavy shows.

SC: The only time that it really only affects me is during cold reads. But now I just get the gist of what the thing is and I throw out trying to be word-perfect in cold-read auditions.

BWW: How does dyslexia manifest in your daily life?

SC: Words. Numbers. And order of operations. Like, I might say a list of things and they might be out of order. I might say a word sometimes, and even as I say it, I'll flip the middle two letters and say the word weird. So I'll have to correct myself. If I start losing the words I have to really start visualizing what I'm really talking about.

BWW: Not to condescend, but I'm so impressed that you've adopted specific strategies to deal with something that could easily have deterred you from the very thing you love to do.

SC: A lot of people suffer from it and it keeps them away from theater. There are tricks and ways of doing it. I think maybe sometimes that my dyslexia helps me, because instead of trying to memorize the word, I'm memorizing the emotion, or the moment, the feeling. I want to give the playwright all the credit and I try to be as word-perfect as possible. But me being dyslexic - if I can't form the word right, or I'm gonna stutter in a way, I'll replace it with something that can fill it in.

BWW: I'm assuming the same strategies worked for SCAD (graduate school). What elements have you brought into your work that makes you the artist you are today?

SC: I realized that I kind of hit a spot where I couldn't get past a certain level. I had a lot of roadblocks, a lot of things I did personally that really called me out - "Oh, that's a Samantha thing." I really wanted to go back into the basics and dive into the acting aspects of it. And That also made me a better director. I've focused on dialects, voice and movement, how the body works, how to release tension, and how to be a vessel.

THE CROSSWORD PLAY runs through Saturday, June 25. For tickets and curtain times, visit https://invisibletheatre.com/What-s_on_Stage/Now_Playing/now_playing.html